by Dana Fowle
Aired March 24, 2017
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. – Scammers are loving the new, self-touring options for rental properties. You can see a property, own your own, without waiting for an owner or property manager. It’s convenient, but it can also exposes you to a scam.
Within days of moving into a rental home, Della White is packing up to leave.
She wept telling us her story. Her family is out nearly $2,300 and is losing the rental home. Here’s how it happened.
She went online to find a rental. She put in her search parameters and a Gwinnett County house popped up. She called the number. Someone she thought to be the owner got back to her quickly.
“Never met him face to face. He said his son was sick and he had to go out of town,” she remembered.
But that was OK because today you can see a property without an agent by going on a self-guided tour. The FOX 5 I-Team did it.
We found a house for rent online and called the listed property manager. A recorded voice directed us to another site called Rently in order to do the tour on our own. At the house, Rently sent us a code to get into the lockbox where we found the keys.
But this convenience for you also makes it easy for scammers to rip-off would-be renters.
Della, unknowingly, had responded to a what the FTC called a “hijacked ad.” The scammer steals a picture of the legitimate home then re-posts it with their contact information.
The scammer texted Della, “Go to the front door and text me the serial number on the lockbox.” She did. He sent her an entry code.
Things moved fast. The Whites signed an emailed lease. They deposited their money into a bank account they believed belonged to the homeowner. And moved in. But days later they got a knock at the door.
“And when the man came to door and was like, ‘Hey, what are y’all doing here? I just wanted to make sure we didn’t have squatters. And, yes, we have squatters.’ No,” she said.
Confused. She ran to look up “squatter.”
“A person who occupies property without right, or payment of rent,” she read.
“I’m just, like, we are not squatters. I got sick to my stomach.”
According to a spokesperson with Zillow, the parent company of Trulia where Della searched for a home, it monitors for “fraudulent” listings. The home the Whites rented was, in fact, a “duplicate” listing that was removed very quickly.
Our FOX 5 I-Team investigation led us to homes on other websites we suspected might be scam listings. We’d find a home then do an Internet search to see if it would pop up anywhere else. Wow, so many did.
We found a Locust Grove home advertised at $1,125 a month. But here’s a red flag, the same house on another site for the much lower price of $800.
We decided to visit the $800 home. The man who says he’s renting it followed our progress closely. Less than 30 minutes after getting to the home, the so-called homeowner pressured us to send money.
“Will you be able to secure the deposit,” he texted?
We knew not to take the bait. Della wished that she hadn’t.
She said, “It’s embarrassing. Lesson learned.”
1. Search the property online to make sure it doesn’t appear with different phone numbers and alternative prices.
2. Beware of owners who claim to be visiting out of state and can’t meet face to face.
3. Never wire money.
4. Don’t fall for a sob story in an attempt to get more money from you.
Most websites now have warnings posted. Rently, when it sends you the lockbox code, also warns not to share that code with anyone.